People are stupid.
The more I see, the more I’m convinced of that statement. Oh, I’m not talking about you, or me. It’s “other people” that are stupid. Right?
It seems that every time I turn around I’m hearing about another Marketing/PR crisis at some business. From Papa John’s and Boners BBQ to AAA to Ocean Marketing. It just feels like we’re seeing more and more of these stories, some of which were handled poorly, and others of which were handled well.
And then there’s this ad from a gym in Dubai, where the idea of losing weight is presented with an image from Auschwitz:
What were they thinking?
It seems that there is so much of this going on that Gini Dietrich has mused out loud as to whether or not we should continue shining a light on these bad examples. And there’s even been talk of handing out a Moron of the Week/Month/Year award. Lately, she’s done a great job of providing both good and bad case studies, as have some other bloggers.
But are there really more public relations and branding crises happening? And are businesses warranted in being afraid of social media, and therefore avoiding it?
I think there are a few things at work here, and as I’ve studied the situation, I have a few theories, and a few takeaways.
First, for the most part, I don’t think there is actually that much of an increase in these customer service crisis issues. Situations like FedEx and Papa Johns have always happened. The difference is that customers now have the means, or the “megaphone” to spread the word more widely and more rapidly. Previously the Papa Johns situation would have stayed very small and local, and probably would have been resolved locally. It might never have gone beyond the four walls of that particular restaurant, and the corporate higher ups never even would have known it had happened.
Second, the presence of Social Media allows us to be stupid on a global level. If you take a look at the Boners BBQ website, it’s clear that that small business has a culture problem. I would bet that this isn’t the first time they’ve been at the center of controversy. But because the owner of the restaurant had a Facebook business page at his disposal, he had the ability to not just be stupid, but mega-stupid.
While the number of horror stories might not be increasing, we’re just hearing about more of them, and Social Media is facilitating that.
So what does this mean for us as business owners and operators?
Well, it’s a whole new world and if we aren’t paying attention, we’re in trouble.
1. Social Media isn’t going away – Stick your head in the sand all you want, but while you may not be using Social Media, your customers are. And more importantly, they WILL use Social Media to tell others of your failure. As a result, the only way to respond and address the issues is by being there yourself. If a situation blows up on Facebook, it needs to be addressed on Facebook. Sure, much of that might take place offline, but the public needs to see your response. That goes for any platform.
2. A local crisis is no longer local – As I mentioned before, most of these situations would have been handled at the local level pre-Social Media. But even for small local businesses, a tiny customer service problem can turn you into a case study of the worst sort on a global level. Though if you respond properly, you might become one of those good case studies. And if you run a local franchise as part of a national chain, you won’t be able to hide your local problems. Corporate will find out, and they won’t be pleased if they have a brand-wide PR crisis on their hands.
3. Customers don’t compartmentalize – They paint with broad strokes. They throw the baby out with the bath water. Now think about what that means for your business. If the lowest paid guy at the cash register does something stupid, it might not stay as an issue with that employee. It’s not an issue of “this guy at this store ticked me off”. It’s now an issue of “Papa Johns ticked me off”. There’s a big difference. Whether you are some guy making minimum wage at the lowest level of a major corporation or the CEO, the general public does not differentiate, especially when they are on the receiving end. If they’ve been wronged, or even feel they’ve been wronged, they have have been wronged by the entire brand.
As I mentioned in a comment over at Spin Sucks recently:
I think the one lesson we can break down is that when we talk from our end about breaking down the silos, we have to realize that on the consumer side that is happening as well. They don’t see the silos, and they don’t think in terms of PR, communication, sales. For the customer, it always comes down to customer service. And they will demand to be treated well.
And this is why it’s important that from the business side, the silos are torn down and everyone is on board and understands this. Every customer has a megaphone at their disposal and most aren’t afraid to use it.
And with all of these in mind, how do we respond?
1. Understand the power of Social Media is word of mouth magnified – Have you ever heard someone talk about a small town saying that everyone knows everyone else’s business? Well, that is happening online. Our “local” community is now global. Stories spread quickly.
2. Use the tools to your advantage – It’s true that bad stories will spread fast, but good stories can spread fast as well. The FedEx case is a situation where a company responded to a very bad situation properly, and the power of the web helped curtail the damage.
3. Bring your A-game – Look at your entire business model: if you provide a great product with great service, both online and off, you will minimize the risks. Sure, there’s always the chance for problems, but the fewer mistakes you make, the less chance there is of a customer taking you to task online.
4. Create a positive, service-centered corporate culture – I have no clue what the corporate culture at Papa Johns or FedEx is like, but I’ve looked at the Boners BBQ website and it’s clear they have a culture problem. They were a crisis waiting to happen. My youngest son now works at the new Chick-Fil-A in town. At the young age of 16 he went through a rather intensive training and brought home a number of books and training manuals. As I looked through them, I was greatly impressed at how well they stressed excellence in both their products and customer service. They strive to create a positive corporate culture from the top down. Yes, there are those who fault them for their stances on a number of issues, but they are an incredibly well run company from top to bottom. Does this mean they won’t have issues? No. But it does create an environment that is less prone to error. As Shelly Kramer wrote recently, your employees are your brand.
5. Use your head -Don’t be stupid. Leave that to other people. Think before you speak, especially when using online social channels.
6. Have a social media policy in place -A solid social media policy that is couched in engagement and encouragement provides a great framework for how your employees behave online.
7. Have a crisis plan in place – You can never plan for every sort of crisis. Perhaps you’ll never have to deal with one. But, as the Boy Scouts say: be prepared. Have a plan in place that will help you make wise decisions should a crisis come your way. This should include a chain of command as to who will respond, as well as contingencies for how you will respond, and how quickly. All of these are important.
A crisis does not have to be the end of the world, and it doesn’t have to create a permanent blemish on your record. How well you respond will dictate how the public reacts.
Remember: people may be stupid, but you don’t have to be one of them.
Are you ready for a crisis? Is your corporate culture such that the risk of a crisis is minimal?
- Lost in Translation: Social Media and Outsourcing (inklingmedia.net)
- Managing Negative Comments in Social Media (waxingunlyrical.com)
- Your employees are a big part of your brand (newmediaandmarketing.com)
- Experience bias, and how it can lead to comms myopia (customscoop.com)